Adventure is an understatement when it comes to family trips. Whether you are driving cross-country, flying to your destination, or arriving by any other method, bringing a family along is ALWAYS unpredictable. I am no expert on family trips, but I do have an honorary degree in changed plans and missed expectations. This I know for sure: Choosing to embrace the adventure instead of loathing the lack of control can adjust our lens through which we view every circumstance along the way.
Might I suggest some things for you to consider before your family sets sail on your next adventure?
Keep Timing Flexible and Go with the Flow
Of course you need a plan, but consider it your “rough draft.” An evolving blueprint of the actual plan that you are discovering as it unfolds minute by minute. This is essential for sanity preservation because you usually can’t do a thing about it—and nobody wants to be trapped in confinement with rage-mama. Our family took a trip to Tennessee by mini-van. On the second day, we forged ahead for the longer leg of the trip, a 9.5 hour drive…which in reality took 12.5 hours. At one point, we made five potty stops in one hour for those adorable, small-bladdered humans. We also had to wait an extra 20 minutes at one stop for the youngest member to finish the deed he had started in his freshly donned diaper, just so we could change him again. What was there to do but wait? So we took turns grunting with him, ran around the parking lot to release a few more wiggles, found some hidden snacks, and looked in the gas station’s souvenir section together. Finally, when he completed the clearing of his colon, we slapped a clean diaper on the boy and continued on our way.
Eat Often and Eat Well
No one is happy when they’re hungry. So if you didn’t have time to pack a snack, that $10 snack pack at the Kiosk might just save the day. And I say it’s money well spent. If you’re feeling “hangry,” chances are your children are feeling the same food-frenzied hostility you are. “Hanger” is not just something the marketing department of Snickers made up. It is a dangerous condition that can tip the balances of your fun-o-meter in the wrong direction.
That being said, for the snacks and food you DO pack, stick with healthy and fresh. On our sojourn to Tennessee, we tried to make up time by force-feeding our kids gas station food and the occasional treat, but the un-napped toddler kept screaming. When we finally turned onto the street of our destination and as we saw our friends waving us in for a landing, the horrible sound of our two-year old un-lunching himself came from the back seat…all over him, the carseat, and the floor. One hundred feet away from stir-crazy salvation and he barfs. So throw a bag of apples, some carrots or cheese sticks in a small cooler. Maybe you can save your children from un-lunching themselves.
Be a Family on the Trip
Don’t get me wrong; I am all about well-timed distractions. Music, personal devices, movies, games—they are all tools that have their place. But what about doing some of those together as a family?
- For music, try channel surfing and listing to the “local” music choices. On our trip to South Dakota, we discovered one of our kids had a real affinity for country music. Who knew? Another one started grooving anytime an electric guitar came over the radio. We had a dance party in the car (as much as our seat belts would allow) and passed some time together.
- For movies, watch it all together or at least with as many as can join in. Enjoy them laughing out loud at the funny parts together. Sing to the songs and quote the most beloved lines to each other.
- Books on CD or radio dramas are a great way for them to use their ears together to follow the story and use their eyes to watch the changing scenery. We love Adventures in Odyssey radio dramas, which they look forward to every trip. Heck, I even have my favorites!
The point is, try to have the same experiences as much as it is possible. Togetherness is one of the reasons you’re taking a family trip, right?
Silence is Okay
Give your kids the gift of no distractions. It will be painful at first and they may think you’re removing their spleen with a spoon, but their minds need to rest before they can wander. Once they start to wander, there is a beautiful phenomenon that occurs within the space of boredom and thoughtlessness called….imagination. It’s amazing the thoughts that come out—the stories their minds create, the questions they think about or even the healing power of just thinking for themselves.
You can try it, too! When was the last time you let your mind wander? Let it wade past the grocery list, the to-do list, and all the planning ahead. Then, wait for it. Your real thoughts begin to float to the top. The ones you’ve been processing on that back burner that have boiled over the pot and beyond. Let your mind untangle every thought and feeling. Simply think. I have learned more about myself on road trips and quiet traveling moments in airports and planes than I ever fathomed was inside me.
I know what you are thinking. Silence? Clearly you forgot the children are with us on this family trip! That, my friends, is where loads of bubble gum and suckers come in. Keep those mouths occupied so those minds can engage! I used to get the Organic Vitamin C suckers so I didn’t feel so guilty, but whatever eases your conscience…. I am telling you—suckers and gum are musts!
Ice Cream Salvages All
Whether it’s pure bribery or a reward for making it through a two-hour unplanned, scenic drive through EVERY trail known to man and animal in western South Dakota; where a total of probably three people live and it’s so barren that even the cows looked miserable; and where I had to pee SO BADLY that I finally resorted to squatting behind a crispy pine tree only to have the one truck in the whole county turn the corner to bear witness…. Sorry, I got sidetracked. Ice cream. Ice cream heals all wounds and gives great incentive whether you are trying to find society again or encouraging your kiddos to climb to the top of that mountain that didn’t look so daunting when you started it. You cannot go wrong with ice cream.
“Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.” Confucius
Don’t miss the adventure of the journey. The bumps and unexpected moments along the way sometimes become favored memories over the actual destination. The fact that we were at Mount Rushmore is overshadowed by the grand memory of us being caught in a rainstorm at Mount Rushmore and getting soaked as we screamed and ran for shelter in the gift shop. The frustration of driving all the way to a closed exhibit soon fell by the wayside when a nearby town’s rest station neighbored a park with slides and a picnic table. The trip may not unfold the way you planned it, but embrace the journey nonetheless, and especially the family with which you are sharing it. Happy adventuring, friends!